Unit 1: What is cognitive apprenticeship?

In this unit, we define cognitive apprenticeship (CA). In order to understand it's goals and strategies, it is important to have a clear definition of cognitive apprenticeship.

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Cognitive Apprenticeship

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In ancient times, teaching and learning were accomplished through apprenticeship: children were taught how to speak, grow crops, craft cabinets, or tailor clothes by showing them how and by helping them do it. Apprenticeship was the vehicle for transmitting the knowledge required for expert practice where learners can see the processes of work. It is the natural way to learn. In traditional apprenticeship, the expert shows the apprentice how to do a task, watches as the apprentice practices portions of the task, and then turns over more and more responsibility until the apprentice is proficient enough to accomplish the task independently. That is the basic notion of apprenticeship: showing the apprentice how to do a task and helping the apprentice to do it. Apprenticeship involves learning a physical, tangible activity. But in schooling, the "practice" of problem-solving, reading comprehension, and writing is not at all obvious-it is not necessarily observable to the student. In apprenticeship, the processes of the activity are visible. In schooling, the processes of thinking are often invisible to both the students and the teacher (Brown, Collins, and Holum, 1991). Cognitive apprenticeship is a model of instruction that works to make thinking visible. It is a model of instruction that incorporates elements of formal schooling into traditional apprenticeship.

Cognitive apprenticeship focuses on the development of cognitive skills for complex professional practice. In health care, a cognitive apprenticeship model can be used to train future generations of health care providers by placing emphasis on the application of knowledge and skills to varied situations. There is a need for clinician educators to externalize their heuristics to make their internal thought processes explicit and visible for a wide range of learners to observe and implement. This form of thinking out loud does not necessarily come naturally to clinicians but can be enhanced through training and practice in CA.

Differentiating Traditional and Cognitive Apprenticeships

There are important differences between traditional apprenticeship and cognitive apprenticeship:

  • In traditional apprenticeship, the process of carrying out a task to be learned is usually easily observable. In cognitive apprenticeship, one needs to deliberately bring the thinking to the surface, to make it visible.
  • In traditional apprenticeship, the tasks come up just as they arise in the world: Learning is completely situated in the workplace. In cognitive apprenticeship, the challenge is to situate the abstract tasks of the school curriculum in real world contexts that make sense to students.
  • In traditional apprenticeship, the skills to be learned are inherent in the task itself: To craft a garment, the apprentice learns some skills unique to tailoring, for example, stitching buttonholes. Cabinetry does not require that the apprentice know anything about buttonholes. In other words, in traditional apprenticeship, it is unlikely that students encounter situations in which the transfer of skills is required. In cognitive apprenticeship, the challenge is to present a range of tasks, varying from systematic to diverse, and to encourage students to reflect on and articulate the elements that are common across tasks (Brown, Collins, and Holum, 1991).

The diagram below (Cash, Behrmann, Stadt, & Daniels, 1997), will assist in visualizing the main differences between traditional and cognitive apprenticeships:

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Goals of Cognitive Apprenticeship


  • To make the thinking process of a learning activity visible
  • To employ methods of traditional apprenticeship
  • To effectively guide student learning
  • To teach the cognitive and metacognitive skills associated with a specific domain of knowledge
  • To demonstrate the strategies used to problem solve
  • To model and support reflective thinking

Strategies of Cognitive Apprenticeship

  • Modeling
  • Coaching
  • Scaffolding
  • Articulation
  • Reflection
  • Exploration

These strategies will be explored in-depth in Unit 4




The following link discusses making thinking visible through Cognitive Apprenticeship.Please read pages 143-149: https://www.learner.org/courses/learningclassroom/support/08_cog_app.pdf

Discussion: Why Use Cognitive Apprenticeship?


In this activity, you will try to answer our driving question for this lesson: What is CA and how is it utilized in health care professional instruction? Begin with your own prior knowledge of the meaning of apprenticeship and your experiences as a health professional educator. Your responses to the following questions will be shared on the discussion board. Please comment on at least one classmate's post.

Discussion area:


After reading about how apprenticeship is applied in a cognitive context, think about a scenario you have encountered as an instructor in which cognitive apprenticeship could have been beneficial. Why would it have been beneficial?

Activity: Reflective Journal


Discuss your thoughts about cognitive apprenticeship in health professional education. Is it something that you think will be benefical to you as an instructor? Will it benefit your students? How? Which goals of CA do you feel are most important in your health care discipline and why? Feel free to discuss any experiences you have had with cognitive apprenticeship as a student or an instructor. All thoughts on the subject are welcome, as this is a journal and you will be reflecting on these entries at the end of this course.

Please email your journal entry to me upon completion of Unit 1.


Do you understand the meaning of cognitive apprenticeship? Can you clearly identify the goals of CA?


Move on to Unit 2: Creating tasks and projects that support competency in health professional education

Go back to the home page: Cognitive Apprenticeship in Health Professional Education

Portfolio Page : Rosalie Forrester